Net Neutrality and the new FCC Administration

As I often note, I try to stay focused on broadband in rural Minnesota – because there are only 24 hours in a day. But there are broader topics that come up that will impact Minnesota that I feel like I have to add. The FCC’s new plans for Net Neutrality makes that list and the FCC is expected to vote to move forward on the repeal on May 18.

The FCC has put out a Fact Sheet on “Restoring Internet Freedom”; here’s an abridged version of the intro…

For almost twenty years, the Internet flourished under a light-touch regulatory approach.  During this time, the Internet underwent rapid, and unprecedented, growth….

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to end the utility-style regulatory approach that gives government control of the Internet and to restore the market-based policies necessary to preserve the future of Internet Freedom, and to reverse the decline in infrastructure investment, innovation, and options for consumers put into motion by the FCC in 2015.  To determine how to best honor our commitment to restoring Internet Freedom, the NPRM also evaluates the existing rules governing Internet service providers’ practices.

What the NPRM Would Do:

  • Propose to reinstate the information service classification of broadband Internet access service and return to the light-touch regulatory framework first established on a bipartisan basis during the Clinton Administration.
  • Propose to reinstate the determination that mobile broadband Internet access service is not a commercial mobile service and in conjunction revisit the elements of the Title II Order that modified or reinterpreted key terms in section 332 of the Communications Act and our implementing rules.
  • Propose to return authority to the Federal Trade Commission to police the privacy practices of Internet service providers. Propose to eliminate the vague Internet conduct standard.
  • Seek comment on whether to keep, modify, or eliminate the bright-line rules set forth in the Title II Order.
  • Propose to re-evaluate the Commission’s enforcement regime to analyze whether ex ante regulatory intervention in the market is necessary.
  • Propose to conduct a cost-benefit analysis as part of this proceeding.

Here are what others are saying about the action to roll back Net Neutrality (And a look back at the discussion from 2015):

Tech Crunch – The FCC’s Myths vs. Facts sheet defending its plan to reverse net neutrality, annotated

From NPR – FCC Chief Begins Rollback Of Net Neutrality Regulations

Pai’s plan broadly is to undo the Title II back to a lighter-regulated Title I classification. (For the wonky: from utility-like “telecommunications services” to “information services.”) AT&T, Comcast and other telecom and cable companies welcomed this effort, while adding that they do support “a free and open Internet” as well as the fundamental principles of net neutrality.

The Internet Association, which represents Web companies including Google and Netflix, said it will keep working to defend the existing rules from repeal. The group said they protect “consumers from ISPs looking to play gatekeeper or prioritize their own content at the expense of competition online.”

From Government Technology – Cities Take a Stand Against the FCC’s Proposed Net Neutrality Rollback

Pai’s argument relies on using history as a model for how the future would play out. The “light-touch regulatory framework … enabled the Internet to grow and evolve beyond almost anyone’s expectations.” This argument, however, ignores the changes in the telecommunications industry.

With service providers increasingly merging with entertainment and media companies, like the AT&T/Time Warner merger or the 2009 Comcast acquisition of NBCUniversal, the past does not predict the future, Franklin-Hodge said. “The telecommunications industry has changed, broadened to incorporate media and entertainment and the regulatory environment at the federal level has changed.” he continued. “But what has not changed is the importance of universal access to the Internet to support participation in the modern world.”

From Scott Cleland – FCC Chairman Pai’s Brilliant Title II Net Neutrality Checkmate Strategy

In sum, this apparent brilliant Chairman Pai strategy appears to be as much about effectively reversing or limiting the legal precedential value of the USTelecom v. FCC decision, as it is reversing the actual 2015 Open Internet order.

The fact that both are so vulnerable together to a new FCC Title II order is emblematic of how politically driven, and legally challenged the 2015 FCC order is.

What net neutrality proponents should take away from this analysis is that their conventional wisdom assumption — that their FCC Open Internet order and upholding precedent are likely to be lasting — is a very risky assumption.

Reality Check: Net neutrality’s long term future is with Congress and a legislatively-negotiated, compromise solution — not with the FCC, which looks like it won’t have its Title II broadband authority much longer.

From Senator Franken (via PoliticUSA)…

In a statement provided to PoliticusUSA, Sen. Franken said, “For as long as the internet has existed, it’s been grounded on the principle of net neutrality—that what you read, see, or watch on the internet shouldn’t be favored, blocked, or slowed down based on where that content is coming from. Net neutrality allows a small business in Minnesota to compete with the big guys, it drives innovation, and it protects free speech. But the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, announced that he’s putting the rules that safeguard net neutrality on the chopping block. Let me be very clear: getting rid of net neutrality would destroy the internet as we know it. I plan to fight Chairman Pai’s proposal—and the big cable and internet companies who are the real muscle behind this attack—every step of the way, because consumers, small businesses, and all Americans deserve an open internet.”

The UK Register was able to gather some opinions in synch with the FCC…

His [Sen Chuck Schumer’s] counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “I commend Chairman Pai for taking bold action today to turn back this portion of the Obama administration’s eight-year regulatory assault on all aspects of our economy.”

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF): “Chairman Pai’s plans are undoubtedly in the right direction … The months ahead will be a slog, with all the hyperbole and misinformation from activists who want to see the Internet provided as a heavily regulated public utility … let’s set aside the absurd ‘sky is falling’ theatrics and work towards real solutions.”

This entry was posted in Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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